My dad told me there were two things absent from war:
Heroes and God.
In a time when everyone in uniform is a “hero” that must sound shocking, but it was his unwavering opinion.
We all knew the basics of his war story. Lied about age to join up. As a scrawny teenager he was made a radio operator in a tank. Shipped out to Sicily. Rolled into an ambush and was left for dead after a shelling. When he came to, he realised he wanted to live and got himself out of the tank and watched the battle rage around him until he was dragged to safety.
From a tiny child I tried to picture what it must have looked like. Him sitting there while shells and bullets flew through the air over his head.
Then one day, just a few years before he died, he added something to his story.
After he climbed out of the tank, he collapsed again and was unconcious. When he woke up an Italian soldier was removing Dad’s boot. Dad remembered him tipping the boot and pouring out blood.
Then someone shot the soldier dead. Dead. Just like that. When he used the word bastard in the telling of that story, it was not describing the boot thief.
And I don’t think Dad ever recovered from the horror of that moment – a moment devoid of Heroes and God.
But here’s what I wish I’d thought to say to him before he died.
If God was on that battlefield, He was in the heart of the scrawny kid from Niagara Falls who was so horrified by the death of his enemy. That’s where God was.